Illegal poaching is decimating the world's populations of endangered animals like African elephants and rhinos. It's gotten so bad that authorities are turning to drones and embedding livestreaming cameras in rhino horns to put a stop to it.
But the demand and the perceived desirability of using these vital body parts for pianos, traditional medicines and jewelry is still there, and that perception needs to be challenged if poaching is to lose its profitability. Based out of the Netherlands, Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Lucie Majerus is attempting to do that with Human Ivory, a project that showcases jewelry made out of her own teeth.
Majerus takes a less confrontational approach to the matter. Rather than demonizing people who engage in poaching, she explains:
In opposition to materialistic values, “Human Ivory” acts metaphorically for having our own value in ourselves. A suggestion to cherish our own “Material” instead of other species' teeth and reconsider conventional preciousness. What if we mine our own ivory and turn it into pearls?
Majerus' idea is to create an " egalitarian jewellery collection" where our bodies are the source of our own "gems" of ornament, and polished into beautiful but meaningful pearls. Majerus took her own pulled wisdom teeth and did just that, beginning first with a ring. She then enlisted two of her teachers at the Design Academy to donate their extracted wisdom teeth, as well as asking her dentist for any discarded teeth in order to have material to create earrings, cufflinks and tie pins.
Majerus cleans and bleachs the teeth, then meticulously polishes them to take on the appearance of conventional pearls, as understandably, some people may be put off by wearing their own teeth. Yet as Majerus rhetorically asks on Co.Design: "Why wouldn’t we value our own material instead of the precious material from other species?"
And maybe that's what is needed: to turn the tables on long-held cultural and religious notions that humans are superior to animals and that we are therefore entitled to exploit them (and each other). Poaching is a complex issue that's often rooted in poverty and needs a multi-pronged approach, but at the minimum, maybe wearing jewelry made from our own bones might make us think twice about owning baubles made from another living being. Majerus is now taking commissions to create more tooth-based jewelry from people's own teeth; you can find out more over at Lucie Majerus.